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in the Collection of 
the Cooper-Hewitt 

The Smithsonian 
Institution's National 
Museum of Design 



\ -'rs 




in the Collection of 
the Cooper-Hewitt 


, ^^PR 4 1983 

inside cover: 

Denis Diderot (1713-1784) 
"Menuisier en meublcs. Sieges" from 
Encyclopedic on Dictionnaire Rdisoniiee 
Paris, 1762-72, vol. 7, plate I 

Cooper-Hewitt Museum Picture Library 

The Smithsonian 
Institution's National 
Museum of Design 



Germany or Austria 
"Fifteen Side Chairs", about 1805 
Pen and black ink, watercolor 

Gift of the Council of the Museum 
191 1-28-479 

The history of furniture is a record of the continuity of 
design through changing social patterns and customs. In a 
certain sense, many of our routine activities, such as sit- 
ting, recHning, and conversing, are choreographed by the 
furniture we use. Thus, the history of furniture gives 
special insights into the cultural history of mankind. The 
design and construction of furniture require an impressive 
knowledge of aesthetics, physics and materials. Through- 
out history, knowledge and creativity have produced mas- 
terpieces of design, innovation, and beauty. 

The collection of furniture in the Cooper-Hewitt 
Museum has been assembled to provide a representative 
sample of the work of important designers, craftsmen and 
manufacturers, and to cover a broad spectrum of types and 
styles. Due to the nature and physical dimensions of these 
objects, the collection is necessarily selective and discrimi- 
nating. The Cooper-Hewitt collection is comprised pri- 
marily of European furniture from the 17th through the 
20th centuries, along with notable American and Oriental 
examples. All of the examples are significant statements in 
the history of furniture, and are preserved for the study 
and enjoyment of present and future generations of 
Museum visitors. 

It is with pleasure that I introduce the Cooper- 
Hewitt collection of furniture with this publication, made 
possible with the generous assistance of the Charles 
E. Merrill Trust. 

Lisa Taylor 


-hroughout the long and distinguished history of furni- 
ture, a duaHty of purpose has guided the designer, crafts- 
man, and consumer in the choice of form and decoration 
of the movable architectural units of interior and exterior 
space. The most basic purpose, and the most obvious, is 
the fulfillment of human needs; a chair should be able to 
support the weight of a human body, a couch or bed must 
provide horizontal support for rest or sleep, and a cabinet 
or chest must insure space for the storage of objects. 
Furniture, with the notable exception of forms such as 
looking glasses, screens and lighting devices, must pro- 
vide a support structure which can bear human or inani- 
mate weight. This basic requirement has restricted, to a 
certain extent, the number of forms which furniture has 
assumed, in that human activities have changed little over 
the centuries. 

The fascinating variety of designs for furniture 
that are apparent in any historical survey reflects a second 
purpose; the choice of materials, ornament, and tech- 
niques of construction imbue a simple form with a dis- 
tinctive and recognizable character, historically labelled a 
"style." Furniture may thus serve symbolic, aesthetic, and 
technological purposes which append a temporal and cul- 
tural reference to the basic form. It is due to this purpose 
that the history of furniture is a particularly appropriate 
resource for the study of cultural history, in that it reflects 
not only primary usage of a form, but also its secondary 
interest — a piece of furniture is "personalized" by partic- 
ular designers, consumers and the process of time. 

For example, a chair may play multiple roles, 
defined by time and place. At one extreme, a chair may be 

a throne reserved for a special member of society whose 
position and authority is emphasized by the appearance of 
a special chair. At the other end of the spectrum is the 
simple provincial chair, often designed and made by the 
user for the facilitation of activities such as sitting at table. 
A third and distinctive type of chair is the seemingly 
"ownerless" chair found in public seating accommoda- 
tions such as parks, airports, and public buildings. In each 
instance the practical function of the chair has changed 
little, but its cultural function has changed dramatically. 

The constantly changing requirements in the 
design of furniture over time, the very qualities which 
make furniture history possible, reflect not only the avail- 
ability of materials but the conscious choice of materials; 
not only the technological innovations which have made 
furniture less expensive or more rapidly produced, but the 
exploitation of techniques to achieve an aesthetic and prac- 
tical end; not only the introduction of new styles or reviv- 
als of past styles, but the subtle changes in social customs 
which have made those styles consistent with a larger 
cultural attitude. In this respect the structural form of 
furniture and the physical requirements of use which it 
must fill may be seen as essentially democratic, spanning 
diverse cultures and periods. The final appearance of the 
form, the materials used, and the decoration which is 
integrated into the form may, on the other hand, be highly 

An example of this distinction may be seen in the 
use of a common material, such as wood. Wood has 
figured prominently in furniture design in most historical 
periods. Wood is usually readily available, it is easily 


SIDE CHAIR, about l6()0 

Walnut, caning 

Gift ot Judge Irwin Untcrmycr 

1 950-4- 1 

manipulated and shaped with relatively simple tools and 
processes, and it has great tensile strength and resiliency. 
The way in which wood is treated, however, indicates 
distinct aesthetic preferences: a simple fruitwood chair 
(Fig. 2) emphasizes the strength of the material and the 
warmth of the polished natural wood; a combination of 
exotic woods, such as satinwood and tulipwood (Fig. 
4a, b) underscores the sophistication, taste and economic 
status of the owner of the object. Wood may also be denied' 
its natural appearance, being painted entirely (Fig. 3), or 
gessoed and gilded (Fig. 13). It may be carved (Fig. i), 
bent (Fig. 8), laminated (Fig. 7) or even pulverized and 
reconstructed as papier mache (Fig. 6). 

These distinctive characteristics of design and 
decoration indicate the special relationship which exists 
between the designer and craftsman, the choice of mate- 
rials, and the consumer for whom the furniture is ultimate- 
ly intended. In each of the examples illustrated, drawn 
from the Cooper-Hewitt permanent collection, it is possi- 
ble to recognize several unifying characteristics and con- 
cepts which form the basis of furniture history. 

The late 1 7th century style of furniture in England 
is exemplified by a tall-backed side chair which dates to the 
period of William and Mary (Figure i). The style of the 
chair, with its fantastic, animated scrolls and attentua- 
ted proportions, also reflects the stylistic milieu of the 
reign of Charles II. 

The Restoration of the English monarchy in 1660 
set the stage for a brilliant revival of exuberant decoration 
and ornament that affected nearly all areas of the decora- 
tive arts. The monarch, Charles II, along with his exiled 

Daniel Marot (ca. 1663-1752) 
France and Netherlands 
"Nouveaux Fauteuils. . ." fom 
1892 reprint ofthe engraving of 1712 (?) 

Gift ofthe Council ofthe Museum, 191 1 

supporters, carried back to England a taste for luxurious 
baroque forms of French and Dutch inspiration. Outdated 
furniture forms, generally of oak, and of massive and 
heavy proportions, were replaced by lighter, elaborately 
carved and pierced furniture of walnut. 

The Cooper-Hewitt chair, although traditional in 
construction, with four sturdy legs joined by stretchers, 
reveals a new taste for highly ornamented forms; the side 
stretchers are lathe-turned as were earlier examples, but 
the front stretcher is transformed into pure ornament 
which, in a sense, denies its function. Bold scrolls, shells 
and voluted foliage are also seen on the profusely carved 
back frame and cresting. A quest for lightness is indicated 
by the introduction of caning at the back; this technique of 
construction had been imported into Europe by way ofthe 
East India Companies. Caning reflects not only an innova- 
tive material, but the growing popularity of Oriental styles 
which can be seen throughout the 19th and 20th centuries 
(See figures 6, 9, 22). 

Many designs for furniture produced during this 
period were derived from the engraved works published 
by prolific designers such as Daniel Marot (1663-1752). A 
Huguenot, Marot fled France to escape the religious per- 
secution of Protestants under Louis XIV. Marot secured a 
position of designer to the court of William of Orange, 
later William III of England. Arriving in England in 1694, 
Marot worked as designer at Hampton Court Palace. 
Although this chair was not designed by Marot, it indi- 
cates the general taste ofthe later years ofthe 17th century 
which Marot so ingeniously exploited, and forecasts the 
resurgence of luxurious furniture forms and the use of new 

Possibly Swiss or German 

CHAIR, late 17th- early i8th century 


Gift of Harvey Smith 


materials and techniques which will continue through the 
subsequent century. 

Complex and highly decorated forms in furniture 
are often adapted and simplified by provincial craftsmen 
who skillfully designed and produced furniture for their 
own use or for the local residents. A side chair (Figure 2) 
exemplifies the sturdy construction and sound design of 
provincial furniture. Simple tapered legs are mortised into 
the gently curved seat slab; attached to the seat is a lively 
cut and pierced back. The outline of the back is a modified 
version of a more elaborate seventeenth century chair, 
upon which extensive carving would have been carried 
out. Here the basic baroque outline of the back suffices; in 
combination with the pierced heart pattern, the chair is a 
prime example of a simple design which achieves great 
elegance due to the restriction of decoration to a minimum. 

During the latter half of the eighteenth century 
many furniture makers looked toward the ancient world 
for inspiration for their designs, adapting motifs from 
Roman architecture and various archaeological sources 
which could be used for both forms and decoration of 
chairs, tables and other furniture. This chair (Figure 3) is 
ornamented with a substantial repertoire of neo-classical 
motifs, including addorsed eagles' heads, bellflowers and a 
ribbed tent motif which forms the back of the chair. The 
gracefully curved legs are joined to the frame with acan- 
thus leaves, and at each corner of the seat are oval paterae. 

The style of the chair is similar to designs pub- 
lished by Michelangelo Pergolesi, a prolific designer of 
ornament who was active in Italy and later in England. 
Pergolesi was brought to London at the request of Robert 

Michaelangelo Pergolesi 

Italy and England 

"Designs for various ornaments, etc." 


from Eighteenth Century Architectural 

Ornamentntion . . . 

N. y, , G. H . Policy & Co . , 1 900 

Cooper-Hewitt Museum Picture Library 

Probably Italian 

SIDE CHAIR, late 1 8th century 

Carved, polycliromed, gilded wood 

Gilt of Countess Costantini 

1 924-6- 1 

4a, b. Attributed to William Moore, active 1782-1815 
Dublin, Ireland 

SIDE TABLE (one of a pair), about 1785-1790 
Satinwood, tulipwood and other inlays 
Gift of Neil Sellin 
1 967-87- 1 

Adam, the Scottish architect whose distinctive style has 
become nearly synonymous with English neo-classicism. 
In addition to working for Adam, Pergolesi produced a 
series of prints issued under the title o( Designs for various 
ornaments, etc. , released over a period of several years from 
1777 through 1 80 1 . In these prints Pergolesi included 
designs for interior decoration, ceilings, urns, metalwork, 
and furniture. Many of Pergolesi's decorative schemes 
were derived from Renaissance sources, including the 
grotesques of Raphael. These filigreed constructions of 
stylized foliage, architectural elements, figures, and ani- 
mals formed a design vocabulary rich in variety. The 
design for this chair is not derived directly from any of 
Pergolesi's prints, but certainly shares the imaginative and 
fantastic quality of his work. 

The idea of "truth to materials" which forms one 
stream of aesthetic thought during the 19th and 20th cen- 
turies was less appealing to the eighteenth; the wood from 
which this chair was constructed has been entirely covered 
with polychrome colors and gilding, providing a luxuri- 
ous surface and brilliant color unrelated to the basic mate- 
rial of construction. 

The geometric simplicity and uninterrupted sur- 
faces of many neo-classical designs for furniture gave cabi- 
netmakers ample opportunity to lavish exotic veneers and 
inlays on the forms. A side table, (Figure 4a, b) veneered 
primarily with satinwood, has inlaid patterns of garlands, 
urns, honeysuckle and bcllflowers covering the entire sur- 
face of the piece. The table top is also distinguished by a 
delicately shaded fan motif at the back and an arabesque of 

vines and flowers secured by a curled and ruffled ribbon 

The quality of the inlay work and the similarity of 
the designs to other attributed examples, suggest that the 
table may have been produced in the workshops of William 
Moore, a distinguished late-i8th century cabinetmaker 
based irl Dublin. Moore set up a business in that city in 
1783, following a period of work with the well-known 
firm of Ince and Mayhew. A May 1782 advertisement in 
the Dublin Evening Post provides an insight into the work 
of William Moore, who 

"most respectfully acknowledges the encouragement he has 
received, begs leave to inform those who may want Inlaid 
work, that by his close attention to business and instructions 
to his men, he has brought the manufacture to such perfec- 
tion, to be able to sell for almost one half his original prices; as 
the greatest demand is for Pier-Tables, he has just finished in 
the newest taste a great variety of patterns, sizes and prices, 
from three guineas to twenty; Card tables on a new construc- 
tion (both ornamented and plain) which appear like small 
Pier-Tables, with every article in the inlaid Way, executed on 
shortest notice, and hopes from his long experience at 
Messrs. Mayhew & Ince, London, his remarkable fine col- 
oured woods, and elegant finished work, to meet the appro- 
bation of all who shall please to honour him with their 

David Roentgen (1743 -1807) has been called the 
most successful cabinet maker in Europe during the 1 8th 
century. This is an apposite comment, for not only did 
Roentgen supply the courts of Europe with de luxe furni- 
ture, including distinguished clients like Catherine the 
Great of Russia, but he created an international market for 
his designs (Figure 5) . Roentgen furniture was sought after 

Ill Paris and London as well as in Russia; Roentgen directed 
one ot the most competent and prolific workshops in the 
latter years of the i8th century. 

Among the most appealing aspects of Roentgen's 
work, above and beyond the quality of material and the 
superb craftmanship which he maintained in his shop, is 
Roentgen's interest and inventiveness in the design ot 
furniture incorporating mechanical gadgets and devices. 
While working for the French court, Roentgen was 
appointed "eheniste-meclnmicien dii Roi et de la Reine, ' ' a dual 
role of furniture maker and mechanical inventor appropri- 
ate to his talents. For Louis XVI, Roentgen made a writing 
desk that contained both a music box and a clock; tor other 
clients he made various pieces of furniture which boasted 
secret compartments and drawers, often operated by a 

The Cooper-Hewitt architect's table, when 
closed, appears to be an ordinary desk. However, the top 
is hinged at one side to permit the desk surface to become a 
drafting board or book rest. The mahogany veneered side 
ot the table ingeniously pulls out to form a drawer for 
storage. The drawer itself contains a leather-covered writ- 
ing surtace, three inner rear drawers, and two sliding 
covered drawers at the tront, one of which is compart- 
mented and may be pulled out through the side of the large 

Roentgen's design reiterates the special combina- 
tion ot tunction and torm that distinguishes great pieces of 
tumiture. In its clarity of form and adaptability to changing 
situations, the Roentgen desk is not unlike 20th century 
modular furniture that has multiple usage built into the 
design. However, during the i8th century, the require- 
ment ot multiple usage was a less persuasive factor in the 
choice of a design than the cleverness it implied. 

Attributed to David Roentgen (1743-1807) 

Neuwied, Germany 

architect's table, about 1780-1795 

Mahogany, wood, gilt bronze, leather 

Anonymous gift 


Materials used for the construction of furniture 
have sometimes included unusual substances. This chair 
(Figure 6), of English origin, was made in the middle 
decades of the 19th century when papier mache was used 
for the production of chairs, tables and trays. Papier 
mache, composed of paper mashed to the consistency of 
pulp, could be molded with or without an internal sup- 
port; when dried the material was surprisingly strong, 
inexpensive and malleable. The surface of papier mache 
furniture was most frequently painted to resemble black 
lacquer, and decoration often included stencilled or free- 
hand gilded ornament, as well as inlays of exotic materials. 

The Museum chair has a single piece curved back 
with scalloped edges; the chair is supported at the front 
with cabriole legs typical of 19th century rococo revival 
style. A lingering fascination with the exotic and luxurious 
crafts of the East is suggested by the lustrous black finish 
and the richly inlaid mother-of-pearl patterns. 

Papier mache retained its popularity for several 
decades in the 19th century, but unavoidable structural 
weakness of the objects rendered it less appealing than 
other materials such as the traditionally favored wood, and 
newer materials like cast iron. Among the firms that spe- 
cialized in the production of fine papier mache furniture 
was the English manufacturerjennens and Bettridgc. This 
firm showed its virtuoso pieces constructed of the material 
at the 1 85 1 Crystal Palace exhibition. Another firm, 
Peyton and Harlow, credited the innovative medium of 
papier mache by showing at the same exhibition "Patent 
improved metallic bedsteads japanned to correspond with 
papier-mache furniture exhibited byjennens and 


CHAIR, about 1845-1850 

Papier mache, paint, gilding, mother-of-pearl 

Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Wiesenberger 

1 967-66- 1 

Bettridge." Since many furniture designs were patented 
during the 19th century, a patent mark on a piece of 
furniture carried a certain authority and guaranteed the 
origin and quahty of manufacture. Other rival firms, lack- 
ing the patent, were not above simple forgery; this chair 
has at the back an imitation of a patent registry mark. 

Significant technological advances during the 
19th century stimulated the production of furniture forms 
which would have been virtually impossible prior to the 
development of sophisticated machinery and processes. 
Among the numerous techniques of manipulating wood 
which were introduced during the middle years of the 19th 
century, one of the most familiar is the lamination of 
wood, (Figure 7) in which the structure of the piece is 
produced from wood glued together in thin layers to give 
added strength to the fiber, and thus permit elaborate 

The name most frequently associated with this 
process is John Henry Belter (i 804-1 863), who arrived in 
New York in 1 844 and set up a furniture workshop on 
Broadway. In 1856 Belter applied for a patent for his 
lamination process, which could include from 3 to 16 
layers of wood. Rosewood, a 19th century favorite, is a 
wood which does not have particular strength when 
carved from a solid piece. However, if several layers of this 
wood are placed together with the grain of each layer 
perpendicular to those at either side, the increase in 
strength is dramatic. 

The Belter style is related superficially to rococo 
examples of the i8th century. The phenomenon of the 
rococo revival was, in a sense, an attempt to recreate for 


New York 

SIDE CHAIR, mid-igth century 

Laminated and carved rosewood and oak 

Gift ot Mrs. Edwin Gould 


Michael Thonct (i 796-1 871) 

Thonct faccorics 

Vienna, Austria 

SIDE CHAIR, late lyth century 


Purchase in memory of Erslvine Hewitt 


^.'%^Sr^^K ,S;i 

Gebriider Thonet 
Vienna, Austria 
Advertisement Sheet 
Vienna Exhibition, 1873 

Cooper-Hewitt Museum 
Picture Library 

the affluent middle class the luxury of the ancien regime. As 
part of a series of revivals current in the 19th century, 
furniture produced in this manner combined the latest 
technology with a somewhat traditional taste. 

A parallel innovation in furniture design and fab- 
rication occurred in the 19th century in Europe. Among 
the designers who achieved both international renown and 
a lasting place in the history of furniture, Michael Thonet 
holds a position of authority . Bom in the village of Boppard 
on the Rhine in 1 796, Thonet was apprenticed as a youth to 
a carpenter. This background led Thonet to experiment 
with various processes in his own furniture workshop to 
produce strong, quality pieces of simple design utilizing 
mechanical processes to maintain low cost and efficiency 
of production (Figure 8). The high costs of furniture pro- 
duction were directly related to the fact that arms and legs 
of most chairs and sofas were composed of curves which 
had to be laboriously and wastefully carved from a solid 
piece of wood. Alternatively, curved members could be 
produced by joining two or more pieces of wood together; 
however, this reduced the strength of the piece. 

Thonet experimented with steam and heat as a 
softening agent on strips of wood which could then be 
bent into a predetermined shape; when dried, these curved 
pieces of laminate would retain both their shape and 
strength. Further experimentation made it possible, 
through the use of strong metal straps and forms, to bend 
and twist solid segments of wood into the desired shape. 
Since the grain of the wood, which provides the tensile 
strength, is not interrupted by cutting, these pieces of 
furniture were extremely strong, light and resilient to wear. 

Thonet's furniture was immediately popular, and 
used in both private and public interiors due to the low 
price of production which the manufacturer could main- 
tain with simple methods of mass production and his use 
of readily available materials. Thonet's chairs and sofas, 
and his well-known rocking chairs, are surprisingly 
"modern" in appearance in the midst of 19th century 
elaboration and have become classics in the history of 
furniture design. 

An earlier variation in the manipulation of wood 
through bending and shaping the structural members of 
seating furniture is exemplified in this early 19th century 
Chinese chair (Figure 9), presumably produced for export 
to the West. Considerable amounts of bamboo furniture 
were imported into both Europe and America during the 
early 19th century; notable additions to the Royal Pavilion 
at Brighton included the Prince Regent's choice of bam- 
boo chairs for his seaside pleasure palace. 

Not only was the material used for the construc- 
tion of this type of furniture inexpensive and available, it 
carried with it the exotic and evocative flavor of the mys- 
terious East. The patterns filling the interstices of the 
structure, in their delicacy and complexity, suggest the 
refinements of Oriental fretwork. This chair is entirely 
constructed of bamboo, save for the caned seat. The struc- 
tural portions of the chair are submerged in a network of 
bamboo frames within which arc suspended the split bam- 
boo patterns. 

Louis Comfort Tiffany commented on the bam- 
boo furniture made for export to the West, stating that it 
was "... exceedingly light, pretty, and . . . very cheap. 

Chinese, probably for export 

ARMCHAIR, early 19th century 


Gift of Mrs. William Pedlar 

1 962-75- 1 

10. American 

Shaker workshop, Mt. Lebanon, New York 


Gift of Mrs. Jacob Kaplan 


The Shakers' Slat Back Chairs, with Arms and Beckers. 


No. 1 


The Shakers' Slat Back Chairs, with Beckers. 


From a catalogue of Shaker Furniture, 
probably late 19th century 
Cooper-Hewitt Museum Picture Library 

The stouter parts or framework is colored dark . . . The 
young shoots of the plant are interwoven with those of 
stouter growth in pretty windings and book cases, tables, 
sofas, and chairs are thus produced at small cost." 

The luxurious rosewood rococo fantasies and 
exotic materials so popular in the furniture design reper- 
toire of the 19th century stand in distinct and striking 
contrast to the furniture produced in the workshops of the 
United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Coming, a 
group of zealous and determined ascetics popularly 
known as "Shakers" (Figure 10). 

A principle of Shaker belief was that simplicity 
and uniformity were manifestations of perfection; the 
quality of one's inner life was reflected not only in the 
behavior patterns of the individual, but also in the neces- 
sary objects of daily life. Shaker furniture exemplifies the 
ideal of simple and functional design, purity of form, and 
soundness of construction. Restrained ornamentation and 
an aversion to unnecessary decoration make Shaker furni- 
ture, exemplified by this rocking chair produced at the 
Mount Lebanon community, a stunningly "modern" 
combination of form and function. 

Each of the Shaker communities were united 
internally but clearly separate from the world at large, 
both in belief and behavior. They did, however, develop 
specializations in manufacturing and in the production of 
various handcrafts which provided an income for the com- 
munity. While the Canterbury community produced 
washing machines and mangles, the Mount Lebanon 
group was renowned for its chairs and published a sale 
catalogue which included available patterns and prices. 

The Shaker style was not a self-conscious attempt 
to achieve an aesthetic ideal, but grew from the conviction 
that simplicity was inherently beautiful. Shaker furniture, 
designed and crafted with function holding primary place 
in the inspiration, documents the group's respect for sound 
labor and integrity of purpose. 

During the latter decades of the 19th century a 
scU-conscious and intentional rejection of the myriad 
reviv-al styles popular during the century occurred among 
designers ot furniture and other decorative arts in France, 
Italy, Germany, Scandinavia and other major centers of 
design. The style, based upon abstract organic forms was 
known as art nouveau. The name assumed for the entire 
movement in France was derived from a sales gallery 
which featured the work of these innovative designers 
opened in 1 895 by Samuel Bing. Art nouveau furniture, in 
w hich sinuous, asymmetric and complex organic forms 
were transtormed into recognizable objects, had many 
champions. Both French and Italian designers working in 
this style arc represented in the Cooper-Hewitt collection. 

In France, the works of Hector Guimard, Emile 
Gallc and Louis Majorelle are among the most refmed and 
sophisticated. Hector Guimard (1867-1942), like many 
furniture designers, was also a respected architect. 
Guimard, a student at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, entered 
practice in 1888. Although traditionally trained in the 
styles of the past, Guimard assiduously strived to create a 
style that expressed a contemporary aesthetic, based upon 
the study ot natural forms and the patterns of growth. 
Guimard's work embodies these principles in abstract 
torm. Originally used in Guimard's own dining room, 
this chair (Figure 1 1) displays a sinuosity of outline that 
suggests by its swelling forms the world of nature. 
Guimard also stressed the natural beauty of wood in many 
ot his furniture forms; the smooth polished fruitwood 
used for the construction of the chair evokes a warmth of 
material consistent with the movement of the structural 

Emile Galle (1846-1904), like Guimard, extended 
his vision of abstract organic design to many areas of the 
decorative arts, including glass and furniture. Gallc was 
apprenticed as a youth at a glass factory; later, he travelled 
to London where he fell under the pervasive influence of 
imported Eastern decorative arts, particularly Oriental 
glass. Gallc became famous for his delicately cut and 
etched overlay glass inspired by Chinese examples. His 
designs tor glass illustrate a curious blending of Eastern 
refinement with European technology — by 1890 Gallc 

1 1. Hector Guimard (1867-1942) 


Gift of Madame Hector Guimard 
1 948-1 1 4- 1 

was manufacturing enormous quantities of his unique 
cased glass vessels. During the i88o's Gallc turned his 
fertile imagination to furniture design (Figure 12), special- 
izing in organic patterns somewhat more literal than those 
by Guimard; many Galle pieces were enhanced by luxuri- 
ous inlays of exotic woods. This chair, diminutive in size, 
is typical of the refinement of Galle's designs in the art 
nouveau taste. 

Louis Majorelle ( 1 859-1926), the third of the great 
art nouveau masters of furniture design in France repre- 
sented in the Museum collections, was born into a tamily 

/* "V 

12. Emilc Gallc (1846-1904) 

SIDE CHAIR, about 1 895 
Walnut, various inlays 
Gift of Mrs. Jefferson Patterson 
1 979-54- 1 

cabinetmaking business. Trained as a painter, Majorelle 
studied with Millet. By 1879 he had assumed his father's 
furniture business, but it was not until the final years of the 
19th century that Majorelle began working in the art 
nouveau taste popularized by Guimard and Galle. By the 
early years of the 20th century Majorelle's factory was the 
most successful and prolific producer of art nouveau furni- 
ture in all Europe. The tumiture attributed to the Majorelle 
workshop in the Museum collection comprises an impres- 
sive suite of side chairs, arm chairs and settee, in an 
extremely restrained art nouveau design with delicately 

13. Probably Louis Majorelle (1859-1926) 

SIDE CHAIR, part of a suite, about 1910 
Gilded wood, silk needlepoint 
Gift of Mrs. Peter J. Perry 
1 969-7 1 -3 

curved reeded legs and backs. In their lightness and ele- 
gance, these pieces suggest the furniture styles of the period 
of Louis XV. Each piece is upholstered in contemporary 
silk needlepoint in delicate pastel colors. Although the 
frames of this suite are gilded, Majorelle viewed the mate- 
rial of his furniture — carved wood — as the means ot 
achieving a sculptural unity of form, construction and 
ornament. Majorelle stated that "... wood provides 
agreeable sensations for an ebeniste: like a flower it allures 
by its scent, charms by its color, ravishes the eye by the 
pattern of its rich arabesques ... . " 

14- Eugcnio Quarti (1867-193 1) 


Mahogany, various wood inlays, glass 

Gift of Signora Marie-Louise Wanner Quarti 

1 977-47- 1 

Italian designers of the latter years of the 19th 
century achieved a synthesis of form and material, of 
function and luxury, in most ways comparable to French 
trendsetters. The works of two of the leaders in the Ital- 
ianate version of art nouveau (called "stile Liberty") are 
represented in the Cooper-Hewitt collection. The designs 
ot Eugenio Quarti and Carlo Zen are unusually fme exam- 
ples of this stylistic movement, as well as of their personal 
and unique characteristics. 

Eugenio Quarti (1867-193 1) travelled as a young 
man to Paris, returning to Milan in 1888. Upon his return 
he was taken on in the workshops of the famous Carlo 
Bugatti. By the turn of the century, Quarti was working 
independently, and showed with great success at the first 
international exposition of decorative and modern art in 
Turin in 1902. Quarti's version of organically-inspired art 
nouveau designs are distinguished by the overall solidity 
and clarity of his forms; decoration of Quarti furniture is 
severely disciplined and understated. On the vitrine table 

in the Museum collection (Figure 14) the decorative ele- 
ments are kept to a minimum, carefully subjugated to the 
overall structural design. Delicate inlaid patterns at the 
outer edges of the major planar surfaces and equally reti- 
cent carved decoration at the base of each leg express the 
refinement of Quarti's design. 

The exuberance and lush sensuality of French art 
nouveau is more closely approximated in the work of 
Carlo Zen (active 1 898-1902) . A writing desk and chair by 
Zen are in the Museum collection (Figures 15, 1 6) ; both are 
similarly designed to emphasize the sinuous linearity of 
the wooden structure, with exaggerated and attenuated 
legs enriched with delicate inlay. The inlay work on most 
Zen furniture is particularly noteworthy; exceedingly fme 
meandering vine patterns of brass are contrasted with 
white metal and lustrous mother-of-pearl. The delicacy of 
the inlay is immediately reminiscent of Japanese lacquer 
and inlaid work, from which many of Zen's designs were 

15- Carlo Zen (active 1898-1902) 

DESK, 1902 
Fruitwood, brass, white metal, mother-of-pearl 

Gift ofjohn Goodwin 

16. Probably Carlo Zen (active 1898-1902) 

CHAIR, about 1900 
Fruitwood, brass, white metal, mother-of-pearl 

Gift of Donald Vlack 

20ch century furniture design brings together 
many of the disparate threads which make up the history 
of furniture during the previous centuries. Concern with 
functionahsm, the influence of the machine and the result- 
ant preoccupation with the relationship between the de- 
signer and the factory, the introduction ot new materials 
and processes of fabrication, and the interplay of architec- 
tural space, interior design and the furnishings of public 
and domestic space — those very issues which concerned 
1 9th century furniture designers — continue into the pres- 
ent century. However, a tendency to combine the role of 
architect and furniture designer becomes even more ap- 
parent in the 20th century. The Cooper-Hewitt collection 
contains several fme examples of the work of modern 
architect-designers that individually and collectively 
express both the problems and potential solutions to the 
design questions posed by contemporary society. 

A convenient link between 19th century technol- 
ogy and 20th century design is seen in a chair (Figure 17) 
by Josef Hoffmann (i 870-1956). Hoffmann was born in 
Moravia and studied at the Academy, was a co-founder of 
the Vienna Secession, and in 1903 founded the Wiener 
Werkstdtte with Koloman Moser. Around 1904-05, 
Hoffmann was commissioned to design the furniture for 
the Purkersdorf sanatorium; the Cooper-Hewitt chair is 
one of those produced for the dining room of the institu- 
tion. Hoffmann's design included tapered bent wood as 
the primary structural feature. The chairs were produced 
at the factory of the Thonet Brothers, who had already 
earned a distinguished reputation tor the production of 
steamed and bent wood (see Figure 8). Hoffmann's design 

17. Designed by Josef Hoffmann (1870-1956) 
Manufactured by Thonet Brothers 
Vienna, Austria 
Purkersdorf sanatorium, 1903-1906 
Beechvvood, leather 
Purchased with combined funds and 
a Gift from Crane and Company 
1 968-6- 1 

Marcel Breuer (born 1902) 
Metal tubing, canvas 

Gift of Gary Laredo 

is straightforward and highly functional for public use; the 
sturdy legs are given additional support by wooden 
spheres attached at the juncture of seat and leg. Along with 
a perforated back slat, the chair expresses Hoffmann's 
self-declared philosophy of integral design: 

"We wish to create an inner relationship linking public, 
designer and worker and we want to produce good and 
simple articles of everyday use. Our guiding principle is 
function, utility our first condition, and our strength must lie 
in good proportions and the proper treatment of material. 
We shall seek to decorate when it seems required but we do 
not feel obligated to adorn at any price." 

— Joseph Hoffmann and Koloman Moser, The Work- 
Programme of llic Wiener Werkslaltc, 1905. 

A comparable aesthetic, in that it stressed the 
close relationships between design, craftsmanship, func- 

tion and beauty, was expressed by the prolific and influen- 
tial designer Marcel Breuer. Born in 1902 in Hungary, 
Breuer studied at the Bauhaus, the all-encompassing 
academy of modern design founded by Walter Gropius in 
1919 at Weimar. At the Bauhaus, Breuer studied carpentry, 
and in 1925 he headed the cabinetmaking workshop there. 
Breuer's experiments with woodworking were soon 
superseded by an interest in furniture designs which could 
be fabricated in metal. Although Breuer was not the sole 
inventor of the bent tubular steel chair, his classic of 1925 
(Figure 1 8) in the Museum collection exemplifies the solu- 
tion to many problems which concerned the designer. 
Bent tubular steel was strong, light in weight, easily 
machine-produced, and maintained the spatial integrity of 
modern architectural interiors. 

ip. Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959) 

SIDE CHAIR, about 1935, designed about 1920 
Oak, fabric 

Gift of Tetsuzo Inumaru 

The American architect Frank Lloyd Wright 
(i 867-1959) also designed furniture from an architectural 
point of view, although frequently relying on more tradi- 
tional materials such as wood for his constructions. A 
chair by Wright in the Museum collection (Figure 19) was 
designed for use in the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo, Japan; 
designs for the hotel were begun by Wright in 191 5, and 
by 1922 the hotel was completed. Wright's interest in the 
unity of immovable space and movable objects demanded 
that he be responsible for the entire design of the complex, 
including the furniture, textiles and dishes. Wright's chair 
is based on the geometric principle of the hexagon and 
octagon, and carries out this theme in variation at the 
upholstered back and the complex system of supports. 

Luxury has not been overlooked in 20th century 
design, in spite of the fact that many modern designs rely 
on severe geometric forms and metallic surfaces. During 
the 1920s and 1930s several designers returned to rather 
exotic materials, often used in combination with extreme- 
ly refined geometric forms. The work of Jean Dunand 
(1877-1942), in the "art deco" style(Figure 20), includes 
the use of lacquer and crushed eggshell on his geometrical- 
ly conceived forms. 

Classics in modern design are the thoughtful and 
carefully considered combination of genius and under- 
standing of technological potential. Few designers have 
married these two concerns more elegantly and gracefully 
than Charles Eames (1907- 1978). Eames has been called 
the first American furniture designer of international sig- 
nificance, a reputation which was earned through consci- 
entious design principles and practice. Eames, like so many 

20. Jean Dunand (1877-1942) 

TABLE, about 1930 
Wood, lacquer, eggshell 
Gift of Rodman A. Heeren 

!i. Charles Eamcs (1907- 1978) 

child's chair, 1944 
Laminated birch 

Gift of Mrs. R. Wallace Bowman 
1969-1 17-1 

Other 20th century furniture designers, was trained as an 
architect, and studied for a time at the Cranbrook Acad- 
emy. In 1939 Eames was employed in the office of the 
Finnish-American architect Ehel Saarinen. Along with 
Saarinen's son, Eero, Eames designed, for a Museum of 
Modern Art competition, the first of many prize-winning 
designs. Eames was acutely aware of the possibilities of 
utiHzing new materials such as plastics, as well as superior 
machine techniques for forming and shaping metal, wood 
and other materials. Several of his early experiments with 
wood included the forming of seating units from laminated 
sheets of wood (Figure 21); one recalls the similar use of 
this material in the work of 19th century furniture makers 
such as John Henry Belter (Figure 7). However, in Eames' 
designs, the structure of the object is never divorced from 
its clarity of function; even the pierced heart motif at the 
back of the chair doubles as an ornamental punctuation 
mark and an easily grasped handle for lifting the light- 
weight chair. 

Designers in the 20th century have not forgotten 
their debt to the past in their search for appropriate con- 
temporary designs. A final grace note to this brief intro- 
duction to the Cooper-Hewitt collection is seen in the 1944 
armchair designed by the influential Danish designer Hans 
Wegner (Figure 22). The simplicity of form, lack of osten- 
tation of surface treatment, obvious comfort, stability and 
gracefulness in appearance are typical of the finest 20th 
century designs. Wegner, however, adapted this chair 
design from similar examples produced in China during 
the Ming dynasty. As in the history of most decorative 

arts, the past may be viewed as a burden which must be 
borne by designers; however, in the hands ot creative 
artists, designers and craftsmen, the past provides the 
context for continuity and change. The examination of 
that context, and the creation of untold variations at once 
new and traditional, is the fundamental role of both the 
designer and any museum which seeks to preserve that 
past for future enjoyment and education. 

David Revere McFadden 

Curator oj Decorative Arts 

22. Hans J. Wegner (born 1914) 
."ARMCHAIR, 1944 
Cherry, leather 
Gift of Fritz Hansen, Inc. 

Selected Bibliography 

Andrews, Edward Deming and Andrews, Faith 

Shaker Furniture. New Haven, Yale University 

Press, 1937. 
Aslin, Elizabeth 

Nineteenth Century English Furniture. London, 

Faber&Faber, 1962. 

Battersby, Martin 

The Decorative Thirties. London, Studio Vista, 


The Decorative Twenties. London, Studio Vista, 


Bishop, Robert and Coblenz, Patricia 

Furniture. [The Smithsonian Illustrated Library of 

Antiques.] New York, Cooper-Hewitt Museum, 

Coleridge, Anthony 

Chippendale Furniture. London, Faber& Faber, 

Comstock, Helen 

American Furniture: Seventeenth, Eighteenth and 

Nineteenth Century Styles. New York, Bonanza 

Books, 1962. 

Eriksen, Svend 

Early Neo-Classicism in France. London, Faber & 

Faber, 1974. 
Fastnedgc, Ralph 

English Furniture Styles i^oo-iSjo. Harmonds- 

worth. Penguin Books, 1955. 

Sheraton Furniture. London, Faber & Faber, 1962. 

Feduchi, Luis 

A History oj World Furniture. Barcelona, Editorial 

Blume, 1977. 
Grandjean, Serge 

Empire Furniture. London, Faber & Faber, 1966. 
Hayward, Helena, editor 

World Furniture. Feltham, PaulHamlyn, 1969. 
The History of Furniture 

Introduction by Sir Francis Watson. New York, 

William Morrow & Co., Inc., 1976. 
Honour, Hugh 

Cabinet Makers and Furniture Designers. London, 

Weidenfeld &' Nicholson, 1969. 

Jourdain, Margaret and Rose, F. 

English Furniture, the Georgian Period. London, 

Batsford, 1953. 
Jourdain, Margaret and Edwards, Ralph 

Georgian Cabinetmakers. 3rd edition: Feltham, 

Country Life, 1955. 
Macquoid, Percy and Edwards, Ralph 

The Dictionary oJ English Furniture from the Middle 

Ages to the Late Georgian Period. 3 vols. London, 

Country Life, Ltd., 1954. 
Mercer, Eric 

Furniture joo-i JOG. London, Weidenfeld & 

Nicolson, 1969. 
Montgomery, Charles 

American Furniture of the Federal Period. Winter- 

thur, Delaware, Winterthur Museum, 1967. 

Musgrave, Clifford 

Adam and Hepplewhite and Other Neo-Classical 
Furniture. London, Faber& Faber, 1966. 
Regency Furniture. London, Faber & Fabcr, 1970. 

Praz, Mario 

An Illustrated History of Interior Decoration From 
Pompeii to Art Nouveau. London, Thames & 
Hudson, 1964. 

Symonds, R. W. 

Furniture Making in ijth and 18th Century England. 

London, Connoisseur, 1955. 
Verlet, Pierre 

French Royal Furniture. London, Barrie&Jenkins, 

Ward-Jackson, Peter 

English Furniture Designs of the Eighteenth Century. 

London, H.M. S. O., 1958. 
Watson, Sir Francis 

Louis XVI Furniture. London, A. Tiranti, i960. 
Zahle, Erik, ed. 

A Treasury oj Scandinavian Design. New York, 

Golden Press, 1961. 

Photographs by Tom Rose fi 1 a ^ 

' 4 6 c) 

Design by Heidi Humphrey " ' 

©1979 by The Smithsonian Institution 

All rights reserved 

Library of Congress Catalog No. 79-56630 

a 111 


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2 East 9 1 St Street 

New York, N.Y. 10028 

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